Why I tell the kind of stories I do: It’s life’s journey I bring into my poetry and prose writing, just as any literary author tends to. I cannot tell you with utter conviction how it feels to be born to Indian migrants in the US, but I can tell you what life is for Indian migrants to divided India who struggled to make their mark. Fiction is powerful only when it is laced with the truth.
On that note…
Sharing the immediate fall out of the previous post’s video. And what I meant by the struggles that make me the writer I am today – who can speak her mind without any hesitation. Confidence comes from continuously raising the bar, in repeatedly coming out of your comfort zone and into challenging spaces.
Another political drama, I inadvertently found myself in the thick of, happened in the year 2005, in Kolkata. This was after the several I’ve already narrated, among the experiences from my working life in my book ‘Existences’
This incident I’m going to relate, happened after Durga Puja, when I was working for the top, pan Indian jewellery brand.
We had several ongoing marketing schemes at the time, reflected through billboards all over the city, also on every print and tv/film media channel. I had personally been on a number of different Tv channels, both Bangla and Hindi, speaking and promoting our USP of the highest level of purity of gold in our jewellery, even demonstrating the same through random Karat metre readings, also exhibitions and fashion shows all over the city including the top rated clubs; promoting the brand in general, barely a couple of months of taking on my new assignment.
I had landed at the Kolkata airport from an official trip to Bangalore, where the company has its headquarters. On the taxi ride home, intending to drop off my baggage and freshen up before going to office, as home was on the way, I received a call on my mobile from my office.
A senior staff, sounding quite agitated, abruptly told me, “ Ma’ am, the Park Street Police Station OC would like to talk to you.”
“What are you doing in the police station now?” I blurted, quite rattled, but there was only silence at the other end of the line.
“Madam, I’m from the Park Street Police Station,” the baritone stated, “I’m here at your office to inform you that a procession of 200-300 members of the “Swarna Shilpo Bachao CommItte” (Gold Handicrafts Saviour Committee – I loosely translated the Bangla name) are currently marching with banners and shouting out aggressive slogans against you. They are all coming over here to meet you.”
“What? Meet me…but why…what for?” I said, then forcefully added, “Is this supposed to be a joke or what?”
“This is no joke ma’am. They claim that you have directly ‘kicked their stomachs’, by stifling their livelihood.”
“Sir, what are you talking about…” I retorted irritably. “What is this drama…what have I done to them…must be some mistake! But well, if they want to talk, I’m willing to listen to them.”
“We have obstructed the procession, marching all the way from Dharmatala at the Free School Street crossing…should we send the full force to you?”
I was pretty irritated by what I perceived as a provocative, mocking and condescending attitude, but in a calm voice I stated, “I’m on my way from the airport, and will be there in office in 20 minutes. Please bring only 3-4 of their representatives to my office and we can discuss.”
After the instruction, disconnecting my mobile in a rattled frame of mind, I immediately dialled my regional office, then the head of operations at the head office in Bangalore, and briskly narrated the weird position I was in. I was still having difficulty believing it myself, yet from both sides of the hierarchy, very calmly and with much faith I was told to go right ahead and meet the rebellious procession’s representatives to first figure out what they wanted from us. But though my seniors had immense faith in me, just as they had shown me since I joined the company and for which this has been my most gratifying work stint, even more than the airline, I was of course extremely nervous. The very idea of 200-300 people marching up to meet me in my office in Camac Street, even in the presence of my quite large team before Diwali and the police forces…it was a daunting thought to meet those whose livelihood I had apparently slashed!
But the meeting with the leaders, which was centred around our brands transparency of processes and candid assertions that was to soon change the culture of gold and jewellery buying in India, went off rather well and politely so, with 3-4 senior cops as intermediaries to every point, on my request. This political committee a wing of the ruling CPIM party then, wanted us to pull off all our TV, Print and Radio advertisements on our education on the need for transparency in the purity of gold purchased that happened to highlight the lack of transparency in the local production process, which was used to mixing a lot of alloys vis-à-vis our 22k or 18k pure jewellery. Also that our Diamonds came with certificates on the clarity, colour and size, which was exchangeable at appreciated prices like no other company did at that time.
It was after the police and the group left, after I had served them tea/coffee and our always used Chocolate Bourbon biscuits; that several TV channel crew dropped in without warning. Out of which two channels were supposedly specialists in sting operations, that I wasn’t aware of. They harassed me, throwing abrupt, ridiculous and provocative questions, leading me on with words and sentences to suit their planned narratives, while I tried to answer nonchalantly into one camera mouth piece shoved at my face after another. I began to feel like I was a suspect who was about to be media tried and put behind bars, as a cruel witch who had slashed people’s stomach/bread and grabbed their sustenance. I tried to be as calm as possible thinking that if I was honest and forthright these Tv journalists would treat my words with respect.
But suddenly I began to feel I was being framed as the questions began to get personal, like they needed to throw my flesh to the waiting audiences on that evening’s prime time, who would bare me and then pounce on every inch of my unsuspecting plight for their quota of entertainment.
But I realised this, only after a senior staff, who had been trying to signal to me for a while actually sternly blurted out to me, “Ma’am please DO NOT say anything more…these are sting operation channels and are just trying to provoke and heckle you. You are Live!”
I just froze, shut up, turning my back involuntarily, frightened and humiliated by the immensely disrespectful attitude – like I was a thief, a bank robber, a suspect who would soon be arrested!
The first thought that came to my mind as I was shutting myself out from these crocodiles trying to get more of my flesh, was the gaping and shocked face of my father…he was always so proud when I came on television! But this, in case he chanced upon it, would destroy him, before he knew what was going on…
What was I paying for…escalation in TRP of the channels our company never advertised in…a woman thief, as projected in several yesteryear Hindi Masala films – is great entertainment! 😄
PS: The first photo is current – the rest are from over the last two decades. The saris we’re wearing – I’d got sanctioned, just for the Durga Puja and Diwali that year.
The video I mentioned is here: https://www.facebook.com/614624973/posts/10158432813729974/?d=n
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